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Aug 6, 2017 12:43 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

2017 Has Been Quite The Year: The August Ramble

With all the varieties of Enchinacea available it looks like the species, E. purpurea is still the best for attracting butterflies.  ANDREW MESSINGER
Aug 6, 2017 12:43 PM

Lots of bits and pieces to catch you up with this week, as well as some updates on plant evaluations—so here we go with an August ramble.

And, as we always seem to tell our children: Do as I say, not as I do.

I noticed the first Japanese beetles in early July, and I was going to be away for four days, so I got out my sprayer and pyrethrin on a sunny, hot day and sprayed the tops of all my perennial hibiscus, Rose of Sharon and two small magnolias to knock down the first beetle batch.

When I returned later in the week, I noticed that all the newer foliage on the perennial hibiscus appeared burned or scorched.

How many times have I said not to spray pesticides in hot weather?

Over the past few months, I’ve gotten a number of emails with regards to organic fertilizers and liquid organics. One of the questions asked was: How can a gardener apply liquid organics to an entire garden in a way similar to the way you can apply the chemical-based Miracle-Gro—through a hose-attached applicator?

There are actually a number of these types of applicators available at garden centers and online, and they are simply hose end proportioners that siphon the fertilizer out of a small plastic jar and add it to the water that comes out of the end of the nozzle. The problem, though, is that many of these organic fertilizers are fish/kelp-based and very thick. I suspect, from my experiences, that because of the viscosity of these fertilizers, they really don’t work that well with these devices.

One solution is to dilute the fertilizer concentrate. If the proportioner has a 16-ounce jar fill, it with 8 ounces of water and 8 ounces of the fertilizer. If the label calls for a rate of, say, 1 ounce per gallon then rather than setting the dial on the proportioner to 1 ounce, set it to 2 ounces. In this way, the fertilizer will flow easily into the siphon tube, while the proportioner will give you the right mix. Sorry, you need to do the math for each different product.

Another option to look at is Jobe’s line of water soluble organic fertilizers. There are a number of formulations, and they are ORMI certified. You may have to do some math to figure out the proportions for the hose-end applicators, but this is yet another option for organic gardeners. I’ve tried to contact Jobe’s for better instructions, but, as they say on TV, repeated calls to get their comments have not been returned.

Hydrangeas can drive you crazy in trying to figure out if you’ve got a type whose flower color can be changed, if it flowers on new wood or old, and if it will survive a cold winter. I’ve been trialing a variety named Let’s Dance Rave that seems pretty spectacular on all counts. It’s a macrophylla (mophead), flowers on new wood, and it’s a re-bloomer, so it flowers for quite a long time, with deep violet-purple flowers in acid soils and saturated pink in more basic soils.

The flowers are about 8 inches across, and in my northern garden it dies back to the ground but fills out and begins flowering in mid-July or earlier. The only downside, if it is a downside, is that the plants are short, growing to only 24 to 36 inches. Great for hedging and edging, and with this variety even if we get a bitterly cold winter out here I’m pretty certain it will come back and be reliably hardy.

I’ve trialed quite a few varieties of Echinacea, or purple cone flowers, but there are three that I’ve become very fond of that are in no way common. One thing that I have noted is that some of these new varieties can take several years to really establish and perform, so be patient and you’ll be rewarded.

Supreme Canteloupe is a variety from Blooms, and it lives up to its name. We planted it in the trial garden in 2013, and the rabbits loved it—but it has been very impressive this summer, thanks to the Rabbit Scram repellent. The flowers are every bit cantaloupe in color, with the stems reaching up to just over 2 feet with good branching.

Hot Papaya has been a favorite for several years, and while the flowers are a bit on the weird-to-unusual side and not totally characteristic of a classic cone flower, the color of these flowers is just remarkable and brilliant. The plants are well branched and flower on 15-to-30-inch stems. Mass and tight plantings make an astonishing statement but will need to be creatively staked.

Solar Flare looks great during the day, but in my garden it’s simply captivating at dusk—the flowers seem to radiate and glow in the fading daylight. With black stems ranging from 15 inches to over 2 feet tall, this is one stunning plant and, unlike some of the others in this group, Solar Flare seems to have established quickly and settled in well with a great show just a year after planting.

Keep in mind that the entire family of Echinacea have their roots and genes in plants that don’t like a rich and wet soil. Grow them a little lean, in a loose but enriched soil, and feed them sparingly. So far, no disease or insect issues, other than a worm that can feed inside the “cone,” but these have been rare as opposed to the rule. Butterflies and hummingbirds love the flowers, and goldfinches love the seeds if you let the species plants’ flowers mature without deadheading.

Lastly, my little clematis, Sweet Summer Love. This is a sweet autumn-type clematis that actually starts blooming in late July, so it’s late but early, if you follow. Another plant that the rabbits just couldn’t resist last year, it never became a vine, never flowered and was planted in the wrong place. Well, the rabbit problem has been solved, but this clematis needs to stretch, as the vines can grow 12 to 15 feet long.

My original idea was to train it along an old telephone pole that’s used as an edge of one garden, but the rabbits had other ideas. So this year I coaxed the vine along an angled pole and string to my porch railing and, sure enough, it took the bait and has been flowering for about three weeks. The flowers are small, only about 2 inches in diameter, and resemble a four-bladed, purple propeller. It’s cute, and it may be a keeper, but so far it’s not a “wow” plant, just a cute one.

And as I sit on the front porch gazing at my long border some 60 feet away, all I can say, once again, is: What a year to be a gardener, especially a perennially addicted gardener. Thirty-plus varieties of lilies in bloom, with another dozen waiting in bud; hostas and astilbes filling the shade with color and texture, the aromas wafting my way in the slight midday breeze; and the Ligularia japonica and Thalictrum with their blooms towering above the rest.

I can easily sit here for hours watching the flowers, the butterflies, the hummingbirds, then turn 180 degrees and see another long border behind me that’s half in sun, half in shade, with reds at one end and whites at the other.

And, even better, there’s so much more to come.

Keep growing!

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